Chicago Bulls are better off without injured star Dwyane Wade

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Facing an uphill climb to the playoffs with time on the regular season clock ticking down, the Chicago Bulls lost their most decorated player on Thursday.

Future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade went down with a right elbow injury in a 98-91 loss Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

It was revealed Thursday by the Bulls that the injury is a small fracture, and he's out for the regular season.

The injury will have a serious impact on the playoff chances for the Bulls, who on Thursday were one game out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one game behind the Detroit Pistons, who are eighth, and in a logjam with the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat.

That impact? The Bulls now have a better chance of getting to the postseason.

Wade's return to his hometown of Chicago was a strange one from the start.

For one thing, most people expected Wade to sign a new contract with the Miami Heat, and probably finish his career in South Beach.

But an odd "miscommunication" between Wade and Pat Riley drove Wade elsewhere. He never got the "thank you" payday that fading stars sometimes get from teams they lifted to championship heights in the past, like Kobe Bryant did with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Bulls made a pact after missing the playoffs last season to get younger and faster. Having already signed veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, adding 35-year-old Wade to the mix accomplished neither goal.

But with a roster stuck in neutral, team brass Gar Forman and John Paxson likely decided that when a player and star like Wade became available, they had to make a run.

They did. And whether they expected it to or not, it worked.

Now, coach Fred Hoiberg, entering his second season after a disappointing rookie NBA campaign, really had his hands tied.

Hoiberg seemed like a perfect steward to usher the Bulls into a new era of the NBA, one that values "pace and space" and offenses that revolve around 3-point shooting.

Instead, in year two the Bulls added two veterans who couldn't knock down shots from long range.

Without Wade the rest of the way, Hoiberg and the younger Bulls will have a chance to save the season, and possibly the Mayor's job.

There is ample evidence that some players on the Bulls are ready for larger roles, especially without Wade's half-court strengths on offense.

Exhibit A is Rondo, who has been fantastic in his two starts after being relegated to a reserve role since Dec. 30. The Bulls have been out and running in those two games, outscoring Charlotte and Milwaukee by a combined 39-4 margin on the fast break.

In addition, after being benched for three games, Nikola Mirotic has stepped up his game, he has scored 19.0 points and grabbed 8.0 rebounds per game in the last two.

Rookie Denzel Valentine should be inserted into the starting lineup, as he has scored in double-figures for three straight games.

Guards such as Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne will need to step up -- including in off-the-ball roles they might not be accustomed to -- in Wade's absence.

This was a team going nowhere, and Wade's style of play has actually prevented the Bulls and Hoiberg from finding their identity going froward.

Of course, Chicago star Jimmy Butler will need to carry much of the load for the Bulls to reach the postseason.

But with young players ready to run, and Hoiberg up against the wall, chances are they give it their best shot.

Chicago Bulls
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Nikola Mirotic
Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
Jimmy Butler
Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat
Southeast Division

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